9-Step Technical SEO Website Audit Checklist: Updated for 2019

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SEO Website Audit

It’s time for your routine SEO website audit.

Hope you’re excited!

Note: An SEO website audit differs from an SEO content audit, in that the latter focuses on analysing and improving the SEO performance of a website's content pages.

Whilst there is some overlap, an SEO website audit zeroes in on specific technical blockers preventing your website as a whole from ranking where it deserves.

There are many articles and guides that teach you how to perform an SEO audit from start to finish.

Like these three:

And they work really well.

However, as they all state clearly and early on - they’re not for the technically inclined.

But you’ll still be spending your time bouncing around a dozen SEO tools to complete objectives.

Btw, just because something is technical doesn’t make it difficult.

That’s a limiting belief.

As long as you’ve got an experienced search marketer by your side, and a guide that shows you how to run a technical SEO website audit and fix the issues - you’re home and dry.

And that’s the purpose of this article.

We’re going to perform an SEO website audit and debug every technical issue that’s preventing your website from ranking as well.

This article will be updated over time as search engines make changes to their algorithms.

But before we do…

Want to fast-track and expedite your SEO website audit to a professional who knows exactly what they’re doing? Contact us to get matched with an SEO provider today.  

1. Run an SEO Website Audit

First thing’s first.

You need to run your website through a comprehensive SEO audit tool.

There are many you can try, often coming with a free trial.

Our two favourites as of writing is SE Ranking and SEO PowerSuite’s Website Auditor.

But for the purpose of this guide, examples and images will be from SE Ranking.

Once you’ve ran an SEO audit on your website, a report will be generated highlighting the severity and number of fixes for you to action.

SEO Website Audit Report - Grow Hack Scale

As you can see, the report is broken down into 8 actions for you to fix over time. They are as follows:

  • Health Check
  • Pages Analysis
  • Meta Analysis
  • Content Analysis
  • Images Analysis
  • Optimization
  • Usability and Technologies

Note: Fixing the issues presented in an SEO website audit report can take weeks or months, depending on the size of your website. We advise businesses to run these routinely (every month), to ensure your fixes are being recognised.

2. Health Check

A website health check is akin to a routine checkup you’d schedule with your local doctor.

The goal here is to ensure there’s nothing obvious standing in the way of your website ranking well on search engines.

A Quick Side Activity

Before you tackle this area, run the following command in Google to see which pages are currently being indexed.

site:[your domain name]

By cross-checking this against your sitemap, you can see at a glance, which are missing (if any) from Google’s index.

This is typically a good place to start. From here, you can use Google Search Console to pin-point exactly why Google's bots won't index your page. Maybe an unintentional “no-index” directive is in place?

Luckily you won't have to guess, as Google tells you why and how to fix them.

Everything look normal here? Let’s more on.

Here’s the most common issues found within a health check report of your website.

A. WWW Redirect Not Present

A WWW redirect is a permanent 301 redirect, used to prevent your website from appearing twice in search results. Without this in place, search visibility could be dramatically reduced as your website could get hit with a duplicate content penalty.

To fix this, simply open your .htaccess file and enter the following text:

To Make WWW. Your Permanent Website Address

RewriteEngine On RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^your-domain\.com RewriteRule (.*) http://www.your-domain.com/$1 [R=301,L]

To Redirect Your WWW URL to Non-WWW

RewriteEngine On RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^www\.your-domain\.com
RewriteRule (.*) http://your-domain.com/$1 [R=301,L]

If your DNS settings are managed with Cloudflare, then their page rules will do the heavy lifting.

B. URL Rewrites

Having unclear, vague or "ugly" URLs pose an SEO risk, as users won't understand which page they're on. Creating SEO friendly URLs isn't difficult. Simply follow the steps here so your URLs are legible and working as intended.

If you're using a CMS like WordPress, you can create friendly urls by modifying the permalink settings in the following way:

  • Navigate to the permalink settings, located in the "Settings" tab within WordPress
  • Choose either the post name or custom structure dials
  • Create the format you wish your URLs to appear like

The "Post Name" option is the easiest way to create SEO-friendly URLs as they're generated based on the title of your posts and pages.

However, there may be instances where you want the category to appear in the URL too.

e.g. /category-name/new-blog-post

To create this, simple enter the following in the "Custom Structure" field.

/%category%/%postname%/

C. Redirect HTTP Traffic to HTTPs

Ensuring you have a valid SSL certificate on your website has become a very important ranking signal since Google's announcement in 2016. If you haven't already, be sure to setup a permanent redirect from all HTTP instances to HTTPs.

It goes without saying that if you collect any customer data, from their first name and email address to credit card details - you must have a valid SSL certificate to protect customer data.

Websites without https are also gradually being pushed down search results.

D. Robots.txt

Your Robots.txt is a file used to tell search engine robots which pages you'd like them to index and which to ignore. Having this file is necessary for disallowing the index of pages you don't to appear in search results.

For example, if you're an affiliate who sells products - you must ensure all your cloaked links are disallowed, as passing link equity to paid links is against Google's TOS.

Your Robots.txt file should also contain a link to your XML sitemap (more on that below), so search engines can see all the pages which exist under your domain.

Luckily, most CMS platforms come with a robots.txt file which you can edit to your heart's content.

E. Monitor Your XML Sitemap

Your XML sitemap is used to help search engines properly crawl your site. It usually contains all the pages which exist on your domain.

However, please note that just because a page is listed on your sitemap doesn't mean it will get indexed.

The directives you give in the robots.txt file, your header/footer tags and the issues search engine robots find on those pages, heavily determine whether a page will get indexed at all.

That's why it's highly recommended to submit your sitemap to Google's Search Console, as you'll gain greater insights into the issues plaguing your website.

For example, within Google Search Console's Coverage report, you're able to see:

  • Pages which can't be found (404)
  • Pages which return 500-level server errors
  • Redirect loops and chains
  • URLs blocked by robots.txt
  • Page returning not-authorised (401) responses
  • Pages with (un)intentional "noindex" directives

All of these pages with errors won't be indexed until they're fixed. So if you're wondering why a particular page isn't attracting search traffic; your first action should be to check whether it's indexed.

If it's not, then use the search console to see why and how to fix them.

Whilst it may look complex at first glance, Google has created this handy page to help you fix them.

F. Content in Flash and Frames

It's pretty common knowledge that search engines can't index content contained within frames or flash. So it's best to refrain from adding content to your website in this way.

A frame is HTML code used to further structure a website. Also described as "pages within pages", using frames make it difficult to improve website SEO as search engines can't read or index the content.

G. Common Homepage Variations

This is another content duplication issue many websites are suffering from. Much like the "WWW redirect" issue we explained above, having a website with multiple homepage variations presents a duplicate content problem. In the eyes of a search engine, these URLs all appear to be a different website.

Take a look at the following URLs:

  • http://yourwebsite.com
  • http://www.yourwebsite.com
  • http://yourwebsite.com/page
  • http://www.yourwebsite.com/page

They all have the same homepage. Yet they're all treated as separate websites.

How to Fix this

  • Set your preferred domain within Google Search Console
  • Tell Google which URL is canonical by adding the "rel=canonical"<link> tag to the head of each duplicate page. Unlike the 301 redirect, this method won't depreciate the other URLs.
  • <link rel="canonical" href="https://mycanonicalwebsite.com" />

3. Pages Analysis

This section takes a deep dive into the response codes (such as 404) your server sends to a search engine robot, when it attempts a visit. Here, you will also learn how to fix and identify long URLs, pages with large file sizes, improper link attribute usage and much more.

Ultimately, your goal is to have every page you want indexed, to serve an HTTP status code of 200. These are essentially pages which users and search engines alike, can find, read and index easily.

Common HTTP Status Response Codes

Page Not Found (404)

This response code is served to the user when a page could not be found. To fix these, first you must identify which page(s) are pointing to this 404 page.

Then you need to make a decision, either:

  • Remove/replace the internal link pointing to this page, or
  • Create and publish the page which is set to live at that current, broken URL

Internal Server Error (500)

This response code is served when the server could not fulfill the request, i.e. display the content on the website.

Here's how to fix this issue (you'll need a technical website expert here):

  • Contact your hosting provider, there's a good chance they'll know why their server is returning this error
  • Ensure your CGI or PHP scripts have permissions set to 0755 (-rwxr-xr-x)
  • Check your .htaccess file for any code which shouldn't be there

Large Page Sizes.

Long URLs

If you need to keep your URLs long (above 55 characters), then be sure to add breadcrumbs as part of your website’s navigation.

Neil Patel Search Snippet - SEO Website Audit

By adding the right HTML markup, your search snippets will change to accommodate this.

Additionally, breadcrumbs help to lower bounce rate. This is because users tend to click on these links to read more resources on your website.

Breadcrumbs - SEO Website Audit Checklist

Meta HTML Tags.

Link Attributes.

4. Meta Analysis

This area deals with common on-page duplication issues. Now, to be clear - some content duplication and keyword cannibalisation won’t kill your SEO efforts. However, it can hurt, especially if the end result is a negative user experience.

Duplicate Page Titles and Meta Descriptions.

Missing Page Titles and Meta Descriptions.

Long or Short Page Titles and Meta Descriptions.

5. Content Analysis

This area of the SEO website audit focuses on content duplication, proper use of heading tags and optimal content length.

Duplicate Content.

Empty and Long Heading (H1 and H2) Tags.

Our Thoughts on Word Count

Good SEO is a lot like good acting. Success isn’t determined by how many lines you get, but  rather by the impact your lines have on your audience.

Take a look at the search results for “Organic Traffic” and “What is Organic Traffic?”.

Omniconvert Top Search Result for Organic Traffic - SEO Website Audit Checklist

Omniconvert ranks in both the coveted featured snippets and #1 spot for these terms.

According to Ahrefs, their page generates over 900 visits a month.

Omniconvert Organic Traffic Ahrefs Report - SEO Website Audit Checklist

With just 120 words.

That’s it!

Now, they also have some very strong backlinks which helps this page rank so well. But the primary reason why it’s gained and retained its spot for so long is because it’s useful to the searcher.

My point is, there’s no need to focus hopelessly on SEO research which analyse the average word count of top ranking pages.

Instead, focus on making your website and content as useful as possible.

Be so good they can’t ignore you.

Whether it takes 100 words or 10,000 doesn’t really matter.

6. Link Analysis

The link analysis section of the SEO website audit focuses on anchor text, linking to quality resources and keeping a well-maintained internal linking strategy.

Excessive Outgoing Links.

Excessive Redirects.

Missing Anchor Text in Internal/External Links.

Improper Usage of Link Attributes

In future updates, we'll cover when to use “no-follow” and “do-follow” attributes in links.

Orphaned Pages and Links.

Dead External Links.

7. Images Analysis

Here, your goal is to ensure there’s a limited number of broken images on your website. Don’t be alarmed if your latest SEO website audit report shows a large number of broken images.

Most often than not, it’s simply alerting you of every instance an image returns as “not accessible.”

For example, let’s imagine that your footer’s logo image is broken.

And you have 200 pages on your website where your footer is displayed.

Your report will state that there are 200 instances of broken images on your website.

By just replacing this image and fixing the issue, you will have solved all 200 instances in one move.

Pretty easy, right?

And the same applies to images that are missing alt-text values.

8. Device Optimisation

Ensuring your website is properly optimised for all devices, goes much further than installing a mobile-responsive Wordpress theme. The impact on your SEO is huge and can no longer be ignored. 

Here’s some core, additional areas of improvement to maintain a good user experience across all devices.

Eliminate Render-Blocking JavaScript and CSS.

Avoid Landing Page Redirects

Usually this issue presents itself at root domain level/your home page. Check what redirects you have set up.

Landing page redirect chain - SEO website audit

As you can see, we’ve accidentally setup a redirect-chain which causes a delay before our website can be loaded.

  • https://www.growhackscale →  http://growhackscale.com
  • http://growhackscale.com → https://growhackscale.com

Instead, all we need to do is setup one page rule to solve the issue.

  • https://www.growhackscale.com → https://growhackscale.com

Minify HTML, CSS and JavaScript.

Leverage Browser Caching.

Enable Resource and Image Compression.

Prioritise Visible Content.

Reduce Server Response Time.

9. Usability and Technologies

The final section of this SEO website audit checklist covers all the anatomy of a user friendly website. From setting up custom 404 pages to improving website speed and more.

Create a Favicon.

Custom 404 Page.

Increase Website Speed.

Safe Browsing Compatibility.

WC3 HTML Validation.

Your SEO Website Audit is Now Complete

Congratulations! You’ve just completed your very first technical, SEO website audit.

Be sure to bookmark and refer back to this guide for updates. As you know, SEO is an ever-changing game.

If you’re looking for an SEO provider to fix the issues discovered in your latest SEO website audit - get in touch with us today.

Depending on your needs, we may be a great match. :)

About the Author
David is the Founder of Grow Hack Scale, a growth marketing company that teaches and implements fast-growth product marketing strategies across the entire funnel for organisations with products that make the world a better place.